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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

Court: Army Must Refer to Chelsea Manning as a Woman

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning in an April 2010 photo

Chelsea Manning, the former Army private sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for leaking classified material to Wikileaks, won a court suit Wednesday that will force the Army to refer to her in future court filings by her formal name and to use feminine pronouns.

The US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, in a two-page decision, ordered that any “[r]eference to appellant in all future formal papers filed before this court and all future orders and decisions issued by this court shall either be neutral, e.g., Private First Class Manning or appellant, or employ a feminine pronoun.”

Manning’s lawyers filed requests for the proper use of her real name in court filings, and the Army filed an opposition earlier this year.

“This is an important development in Chelsea’s fight for adequate medical care for her gender dysphoria,” said Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney representing Manning. “That fight continues but at least the government can no longer attempt to erase Chelsea’s identity by referring to her as male in every legal filing.”

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Manning, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth, began a regimen of hormone therapy last month after a multi-year court battle. She is the first person to receive hormone treatment from the military, as transgendered soldiers are still not permitted.

The military will not, however, allow Manning to grow her hair like female prisoners.

Read Next: George Zornick on how King v. Burwell could strip subsidies away from millions of Americans

The Danger Lurking in a Possible Supreme Court Victory for Obamacare

A demonstrator in favor of the Affordable Care Act walks with a sign in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on March 4, 2015. (Reuters/Gary Cameron)

When the Supreme Court heard arguments in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, it was forced to consider whether just a few words in the Affordable Care Act—“exchange established by the state”—meant that people living in states with federal exchanges shouldn’t be receiving any subsidies to buy health insurance.

If the justices ultimately don’t think the language is clear either way, they could still invoke what’s known as the Chevron deference to uphold Obamacare in its current form. In 1984, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council established a precedent that courts should defer to relevant agencies if a legislative text does not make intent obvious, so long as the agency’s interpretation is based on a “permissible construction of a statute.”

In this case, applying Chevron deference would mean ruling the Affordable Care Act text isn’t clear on who should get subsidies—something the government vigorously argues is wrong, and that it is clear—but also ruling that the IRS could permissibly read the ACA in a way that allows subsidies and tax credits for people who live in states with a federal exchange. Everything would go ahead as normal.

This is not a purely theoretical outcome. It’s actually what the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in King v. Burwell before it reached the Supreme Court. (That court found that the government had only a “slightly” stronger position about the meaning of the contested phrase and that the law is “ambiguous,” but that the IRS should be allowed to proceed with nationwide subsidies.) Justice Anthony Kennedy brought up the Chevron deference during arguments Wednesday, though he appeared reluctant to apply it.

So you might see the potential problem here: if the Court does apply this logic to its final ruling, couldn’t President Ted Cruz come into office and direct the IRS to interpret the ACA in the opposite fashion—and thus strip subsidies away from millions of Americans, thereby sending the dread Obamacare into a death spiral? This might be an attractive option for him, since he could do it unilaterally without any cooperation needed from Congress.

The short answer is: yes. But there are legal and political realities that would likely prevent that from ever happening.

Chief Justice John Roberts brought up this very possibility during oral arguments Wednesday, asking US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether “a subsequent administration could change that interpretation.”

Verrilli essentially conceded it could, but immediately pointed to the legal problem. Remember, the agency (in this case the IRS) can only base its interpretation on a “permissible construction” of the ACA, and Verilli argued that this hypothetical Republican administration “would need a very strong case” to change the IRS’s interpretation, especially given the hugely disruptive effects that would follow.

If President Cruz went ahead anyway, another long legal challenge would probably result, except with the roles reversed: there would be another challenge to the government’s interpretation of “exchange established by the state,” but it would be brought by progressive defenders of the health care law on behalf of people who lost subsidies for health insurance. Another messy, protracted legal fight would follow, while people in many states struggled to pay for health insurance in the meantime.

But political realities might prevent this from ever happening in the first place. The genius of the conservative challenge in King v. Burwell is that if it succeeds, Republican politicians have some level of plausible deniability for all the chaos and loss of coverage that would follow. Republicans would basically argue “Hey, it’s not our fault. The authors of Obamacare wrote an unclear law and the Supreme Court tossed part of it.”

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Also, in a courtroom, it’s a little easier to make a theoretical, legal argument that the intent of the lawmakers who wrote the ACA is both unclear and immaterial. But President Cruz would have to make a much more direct case in the public square: he would have to argue that he truly thinks the ACA wasn’t meant to provide any subsidies to people in states with a federal exchange, and then with the stroke of a pen effectively strip heath coverage from millions of people—and own the damage all to himself.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that even the most determined foe of Obamacare would do this. The political fallout would be far too extreme, and the move might lose on a court challenge anyhow.

So if the Court does uphold the ACA under a Chevron deference, proponents of the law can probably rest easy—but they could never be quite sure King v. Burwell was the final word.

Read Next: George Zornick on how these House members are trying to reintroduce gun control in Congress.

Gabby Giffords Returns to Capitol Hill to Push Background Checks

Former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, joined by her husband Mark Kelly, left, and Representative Robert Dold, center, speaks on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, about bipartisan legislation on gun safety. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The congressional gun control debate of early 2013 seems like a distant memory to many people in Washington—and the failure of universal background check legislation ensured the Newtown school shootings had essentially no impact on federal law.

But the legislation’s proponents were back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, trying to jump-start the gun-control push despite even an even more hostile climate in Congress following the midterm elections. Eight House members reintroduced the background checks legislation that never received a vote in the 113th Congress, as former Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly lent their support to the bill.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said during her brief remarks. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting.”

The bill, authored by Representatives Peter King and Mike Thompson, would expand the existing background-check system to cover nearly all gun transfers in the country, and would close the gaping gun-show and online-purchase loopholes. It would also provide incentives for states to give the national background check system better information, and also establish a national commission on mass violence.

It never received a vote in the House during the last Congress, and the very similar Manchin-Toomey legislation in the Senate failed to clear a filibuster in April 2013. Today, the Senate has been taken over by Republicans and almost certainly holds fewer pro–gun control members, and the Republican advantage in the House has expanded.

But proponents of King-Thompson insist the legislation would still pass the House if Speaker John Boehner gave it a vote. “We need to get a vote on the bill, and when we do, we’ll get it passed,” said Thompson. As evidence the bill could pass, he cited the public support of 189 House members for this legislation in the last Congress, and the “private support of a clear majority,” along with the successful vote last year to devote more funding to the national background check system.

The bill does indeed enjoy bipartisan backing so far: of the eight co-sponsors, four are Republicans: Representatives Peter King, Bob Dold, Pat Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick.

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But it almost certainly wouldn’t get the support of a majority of Republicans, and Boehner is under ever-increasing pressure not to irritate his caucus by violating the so-called Hastert Rule and bring up legislation that would pass with a majority Democratic support.

The idea now is to at least keep the legislation in the public eye, and try to build in more support—something that might be easier without an overheated national debate on gun control, which was the case last time around. Dold, a Republican, told reporters he will have a conversation with Boehner in the near future and urge a vote.

Read Next: George Zornick on how Obama's AUMF proposal could lead to an open-ended war.

Administration Admits Vague Language in Obama’s AUMF Is ‘Very Deliberate’

President Barack Obama

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When President Obama proposed an authorization for use of military force last month, he described it as “specific to the threat posed by ISIL.”

Many Democrats feared Obama’s proposal was too broad, and that the lack of geographic limits along with the inclusion, beyond ISIL, of “associated forces” to the bill would write yet another blank check for war.

But the administration pushed back hard: “Our focus, and the focus of this authorization to use military force, is on ISIL,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on the day Obama unveiled his proposal.

This was decidedly not the approach the administration took today in a hearing held by the House Armed Services Committee. Obama’s undersecretary for defense policy, Christine Wormouth, explicitly affirmed to Republican Representative Richard Nugent that the proposed authorization is not limited to ISIL, and could be used all over the globe to fight a broad war against Islamic “extremism” generally.

Nugent began his question by saying he was worried that Obama’s AUMF was “just on ISIS,” and that the bigger problem is “radical extremism in Islam across the globe.” Wormouth’s rather remarkable reply was that the lack of geographic locations in the proposal is “very deliberate,” and meant to “address exactly the kind of concerns you have.” She added that the “associated forces” language was also meant to add “breadth” to “who we go after.”

The full exchange:

REP. NUGENT: We’re worried about strategy. Strategy really needs to be larger than just ISIS. I mean, it really is—and I know the president doesn’t want to go there—but it its radical extremism in Islam across the globe that is affecting us, and our friends across the globe. And so I’m worried with AUMF that it’s just on ISIS—does that really, is that really the strategy? That’s part of the strategy, but is that really where we need to be? Because you see it first-hand, across the globe. And I know that all the combatant commands talk about it, I’m sure.

WORMOUTH: Why don’t I take a crack at this quickly and then have General Austin pile on. The AUMF proposal, as I’m sure you’re aware, doesn’t have a geographic limitation. And that was very deliberate, to address exactly the kinds of concerns that you have. Similarly there is the associated forces, which is designed to give us some breadth and discretion as to who we go after.

(The aforementioned General Austin did not weigh in, as Nugent’s time had just expired.)

Now, it’s been fairly obvious that Obama’s AUMF tried to thread a needle in order to actually pass Congress: on the one hand, it applied some language that least appeared to limit the use of ground troops in any conflict, so as to appeal to war-weary members. The administration also publicly contrasted the ostensible focus on ISIL in this authorization to the overly broad AUMF passed in 2001; Obama specifically highlighted this in his letter to Congress. But the AUMF also was written to simultaneously appeal to hawks, with provisions for “associated forces” and so on.

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In that context, when Wormouth highlighted the broadness of the authorization to a congressional hawk, it is perhaps not a surprise. But the bluntness with which she did it underscores the fundamental logical conflict in Obama’s proposal. Either it limits the president’s war power to the current conflict with ISIS, or it doesn’t.

Here a top defense official is saying clearly: it doesn’t.

Read Next: George Zornick on how the AUMF could authorize US military operations on an ever-growing list of countries.

If Congress Passes Obama’s War Request, It Authorizes Operations in All These Countries

(Click graphic to enlarge)

President Obama has asked Congress for a three-year war authorization to combat “ISIL or associated persons or forces,” regardless of where those forces may be. There are no geographic limitations in Obama’s proposal.

The White House has a straightforward explanation for why: “…if we pass a piece of legislation that says Congress has authorized the President to carry out the use of military force against ISIL targets in Iraq and in Syria, we don’t want anybody in ISIL to be left with the impression that if they moved to some neighboring country that they will be essentially in a safe haven and not within the range of United States military capability,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “So that is why we’ve been clear about not including a geographic limitation in this proposal.”

By that logic, United States military capability could be employed anywhere ISIL is deemed to exist. As the above map shows, this is not a theoretical issue, and it’s not just countries that “neighbor” Iraq and Syria. The New York Times reported Sunday that US intelligence officials claim ISIL is moving outside Syria and Iraq “to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya” and that extremists have organized under the ISIS banner in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen. Elsewhere, Agence France Presse has reported that in the Philippines, two rebel groups have pledged allegiance to ISIL. (The United Nations has alternately claimed there is no real ISIL presence there.)

It’s rather easy to envision US military operations in many of these countries, though of course not all. (The chance any president sends ground troops into Saudi Arabia is nil.) And the administration has already claimed Congress’s 2001 war authorization gives presidents the power to use military force against ISIL anyhow.

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But there is an ever-growing list of countries where Congress would still be formally, and clearly, authorizing military operations if they pass Obama’s proposal—and perhaps giving the green light to a truly global war on terror.

 

Read Next: George Zornick on why Democrats need an Elizabeth Warren for foreign policy

Elizabeth Warren Knows Why You Want Her to Run for President

Elizabeth Warren

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

CORRECTION: This piece originally said Elizabeth Warren commented on the movement to draft her into the presidential race during a constituent meeting in Springfield, MA, citing a report from MassLive.com which explicitly stated that Warren was speaking about "the growing movement calling her to run." However, a review of the full transcript of the meeting shows Warren was speaking about her supporters generally, including those who want her to run for president-- but not about the draft movement in particular. We regret the error, and the corrected post is below.

Elizabeth Warren has said plenty of times—over fifty—that she will not run for president. But she’s never really said anything about the movement urging her to do so, short of her lawyer’s letter to Ready for Warren, disavowing its efforts.

At a constituent meeting Thursday in Springfield, Massachusetts, Warren was asked about "the folks that your message is resonating with, that want you to run for president, that support you as a senator." According to MassLive.com she replied:

 “Americans understand that the game is rigged, and they’ve had enough of it. They’re ready to fight back. They want a Washington that works for them,” Warren said.

“I think that people are getting more engaged, politically, and they’re seeing through a lot of the rhetoric that politicians have been throwing out there for a long time. They want to see some real change, and I think that’s what we need to work on.”

If Warren was speaking about the draft movement in particular, it would be news—though it's not clear that she was; the question was rather broad. Warren still hasn’t really said anything positive about the activists trying to draft her into the race. On Thursday night, Warren's office said only of the draft movement that "Senator Warren does not support their efforts." An aide to Warren told The Nation the Senator was not referring to the draft movement, but rather a general sense of her political support. 

But the groups who want Warren to run still found hope that she responded so postively to a question that, even if glancingly, was about the people urging her to run. “Our message to Senator Warren is this: ‘when you’re ready to run, we’ll be ready to help you fight back,” said Ready for Warren campaign manager Erica Sagrans in a statement. “This movement is about more than getting others to believe in you. It’s about getting you to believe in us.”

"It's clear that Senator Warren hears the hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country want her in the 2016 race, because they know we need a President who's not afraid to stand up to the powerful and fight for working families," said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, which teamed with MoveOn.org to create Run Warren Run. 

Read Next: George Zornick on the Draft Warren movement.

Democrats Need an Elizabeth Warren for Foreign Policy

Hillary Clinton

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Reuters/Andrew Kelly)

It’s not exactly surprising news, but The Wall Street Journal reported Friday morning that Hillary Clinton is leaning towards a much more interventionist foreign policy than Barack Obama, should she become president:

Private meetings that she’s held with various foreign-policy experts offer some hints as to how she might part ways with President Barack Obama when it comes to crises in Ukraine, Syria and other global trouble spots. The major takeaway from these private talks is that she wants a strategy more suited to shaping conditions overseas, as opposed to reacting to events as they arise, people familiar with the meetings said.…

“She’s much less risk-averse” than Mr. Obama, said Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars who has taken part in Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy briefings. [Emphasis added.]

It can be exhausting to funnel important policy debates through endless Hillary speculation, but the fact is she’s an avatar for where the party is headed. Much of the Democratic establishment hopes she’ll be the presidential nominee, and even more of it thinks she will be.

Yet a foreign policy with clear echoes of neoconservatism—pre-emptively shaping events overseas, with less reluctance to use military force—isn’t in line with many elected Democrats nor most Democratic voters. And while the effort to draft Elizabeth Warren into the presidential race is aimed at ensuring Clinton respects the more populist wing of the party on economic issues, no such effort of that scale yet exists on the foreign policy side.

It’s strange, because restrained, diplomatic foreign policy is fertile political ground in the Democratic Party. Just in recent days, many congressional Democrats, from the ranking members of the House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees to the entire Progressive Caucus, have opposed Obama’s proposed war authorization against ISIS because they feel it is too broad. Democratic opposition in Congress helped scuttle a 2013 vote Obama sought that would allow strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and this is an area where Clinton has explicitly said Obama still wasn’t aggressive enough. Even dating back to Obama’s first term, congressional Democrats—including all but eight Democratic members of the House—were urging Obama to withdraw more rapidly from Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal report says Clinton’s advisers feel the public is moving away from war-weariness and is ready to embrace more aggressive US intervention again, and cites a NBC/WSJ poll that shows 56 percent of the public disapproves of Obama’s foreign policy.

But looking at the polls when broken down by party identification, it’s hard to find Democratic voters rejecting Obama’s foreign policy course. Fox News released a poll this week showing that among Democrats, Obama has a 71 percent approval rate on foreign policy, and the same level of support for his approach to terrorism. Fox News also asked this rather weighted question: “The Obama administration says the United States is pursuing a strategy in the Middle East that relies mainly on diplomacy and alliances rather than decisive military force. Does this sound more like a serious attempt to address the problem with Islamic extremists or a half-hearted attempt?” Fifty-two percent of Democrats still said serious, while 41 percent answered that it was half-hearted.

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Democrats simply aren’t eager to depart from Obama’s foreign policy approach in favor of a more aggressive posture. Perhaps Hillary can convince them. But it’s eminently clear the party should at least have a serious debate about a more hawkish stance, and among possible presidential candidates, there seem to be few options that could make it happen.

Warren offers no discernible difference from Clinton’s foreign policy. Former Senator Jim Webb is a deep skeptic of military interventions, but until further notice he’s a non-factor that remains unknown to much of the public. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is considering a run, opposes Obama’s AUMF as too broad and generally sketches out more careful foreign policy vision. But he is polling in the low single digits, and the cornerstone of his political persona is economic populism. Beyond that, none of the rumored Democratic candidates seem positioned or even willing to challenge Clinton from the left on foreign policy.

There is some hope outside the 2016 field—Senator Chris Murphy has reportedly been arguing behind the scenes that the party needs a more credible progressive foreign policy vision, and in recent days he’s gone public with that appeal. He told Buzzfeed, “Progressives have been adrift on foreign policy and it means presidential candidates don’t feel a lot of pressure to move away from the right-wing orthodoxy.”

It’s a noble effort to be sure, considering where the center of the party actually lies. But the timeframe for success is short—once a president enters the White House, there’s very wide latitude for executing whatever foreign policy vision he or she chooses, and Clinton is starting to make her plans clear.

 

Read Next: George Zornick on Obama’s support for an open-ended war against ISIL

Key Democrats Worry Obama Proposal Might Lead to Open-Ended War

U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff

U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

President Obama sent Congress on Wednesday a proposal for an authorization for use of military force against ISIL, which would give formal Congressional support to a war that is already underway.

Republican hawks in Congress are already criticizing the proposal for putting too many restrictions on the military operation. That’s to be expected. But more notably, some top Democrats are openly questioning if this authorization is essentially meaningless. Others are raising red flags about the scope of the mission Obama outlined, arguing it may ultimately place no real restrictions on military combat and end up blessing a wide and endless war.

Obama’s proposal, which can be read here, would grant the president three years to conduct operations against ISIL, at which point the authorization would automatically sunset unless it was renewed by Congress. This means it would apply not just to Obama, but his successor in the White House.

The legislation would also repeal the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) Congress passed in 2002, which gave George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. It would not repeal nor alter the 2001 AUMF Congress passed in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks.

However, the administration has already said the 2001 authorization allows for combat missions against ISIL. Secretary of State John Kerry asserted during Senate testimony last year that “good lawyers within the White House, within the State Department, who have examined this extremely closely, have come to the conclusion across the board” that the 2001 authorization applies.

Some leading Democrats have therefore argued the sunset in Obama’s proposal is essentially useless.

“[A] new authorization should also include a sunset of the 2001 AUMF,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence. “[W]ithout one, any sunset of the new authorization will be ineffectual, since the next president can claim continued reliance on the old one.”

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday morning that she wants to explore sunsetting the 2001 AUMF when Congress takes up Obama’s proposal. “I would think that one consideration might be, is when this three-year sunset is there, that it sunsets ‘01 as well.”

In addition, several key Democrats are raising concerns about loose language in Obama’s proposal when it comes to limits on US troop involvement.

The draft legislation from the White House would define the fight as being against “ISIL or associated persons or forces,” and would not set geographic limits on combat. It would also prohibit US troops from participating in “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” but would implicitly allow other military operations that included US troops—such as air strikes, special operations efforts against ISIL leaders, intelligence gathering, and essentially anything else that isn’t deemed an “enduring ground operation.”

This ambiguity, so far, isn’t flying with many key Democrats. “This authorization needs to make it crystal clear that U.S. combat troops cannot be sent back into the Middle East as part of this conflict,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has recently tried to create a \progressive foreign policy force in the upper chamber. “I worry that the vague limitations on ground troops in today’s draft may turn out to be no limitations at all.”

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Schiff told reporters Wednesday morning that “a president could surge 100,000 troops into Syria and say ‘this is not enduring.’” In a statement, he said “a new authorization should place more specific limits on the use of ground troops to ensure we do not authorize another major ground war without the President coming to Congress to make the case for one.”

More broadly, the lack of geographical limits and the familiar “associated forces” phrasing also raised alarms with some Democrats. Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement: “I have serious concerns about the breadth and ambiguity of this proposal. The executive branch’s reliance on the 2001 AUMF to justify such things as indefinite detentions and drone strikes far from Afghanistan has taught that Congress must carefully limit any authority it grants a president to engage in war.”

 

Read Next: Six Americans who rejected the use of torture in America’s “war on terror”

New Trade Data Come at the Worst Possible Time for Obama

TPP members

Leaders of the member states of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Government of Chile/CC BY 2.0)

President Obama’s push for a massive new trade deal with Asia is predicated on the idea it will help everyday Americans: that it will “level the playing field for the middle class,” in Obama’s words. But as the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership enters its endgame, newly released government data about the US trade deficit shows recent trade deals have done the opposite of what was promised—and have inflicted added damage on American jobs.

The Census Bureau’s annual trade data for 2014, released Thursday morning, shows the US trade deficit in 2014 jumped 6 percent to $505 billion in 2013. This increase received a late boost from the December 2014 numbers, which showed at 17.1 percent increase in the trade deficit—resulting in the biggest trade imbalance since December 2012.

A country’s trade balance is a crucial economic indicator; a nation that is exporting far more goods than it is importing is generally in good economic health. Conversely, a country that is increasingly importing more than it exports—as is the case with the United States—is watching valuable dollars and jobs flow overseas.

The data shows a small, 1 percent growth in US exports for 2014, though the domestic oil and gas boom accounts for much of that. US manufacturing exports fell by more than $5 billion in 2014, and the US goods trade deficit rose to $736.8 billion. (More on that number in a minute; it doesn’t tell the full story.)

There’s a simple explanation for the widening trade deficit: the US dollar is strong, and there’s weak growth overseas, which would naturally depress exports.

But congressional critics of the TPP seized on a broader point on Thursday morning—robust promises about the benefits of past trade deals have turned out to be empty. “We signed those trade deals, and the result has been the opposite,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro on a Thursday morning conference call with reporters. “The administration continues to pursue the same failed policies of the past several years.”

Of particular note is the increasing trade deficit with Korea, which increased a whopping 20 percent in 2014, to $25.1 billion.

Obama signed a free-trade agreement with Korea during his first term, calling the deal “a major win for American workers and businesses,” and it took effect in early 2012. But the US goods trade deficit with Korea was 81 percent higher in 2014 than in 2011. That translates to a loss of 74,000 jobs, by the administration’s own metrics for measuring job gains from trade.

“[The new information] basically confirms a lot of our suspicions, and our positions and votes over the years about how these trade agreements have really been a bad deal for the American worker,” said Representative Tim Ryan.

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DeLauro also offered some broadsides about how the administration was spinning the Census report. If you check the Commerce Department webpage, you’ll see a glowing news release Thursday boasting that US exports have grown for the fifth year. “Exports have played a critical role in America’s economic comeback, and they continued to do so in 2014,” said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

But it’s impossible to gauge the macro trade picture if you only know the level of exports and not imports. Literally nowhere in the Commerce press release is the word “import,” and including that information would depict a growing trade deficit.

“They deliberately fail to complete the picture by looking at imports,” said DeLauro.

Another major complaint leveled by congressional opponents of TPP, as well as outside advocates, is the administration’s continued inclusion of “foreign exports” into its data. These are good manufactured wholly overseas, imported to the United States, and then re-exported without alteration. These don’t create a single US production job, but are counted in the data as the same as regular exports.

Deep inside the Census report are the export numbers without “foreign exports,” but they are not the top-line numbers used by administration officials, and are nearly impossible for the public to discern. To see them “you had to know what you were looking for and then do the math,” said Ben Beachy of Public Citizen.

Once you do the math, the US goods trade deficit is $911.9 billion, not the aforementioned $736.8 billion. DeLauro called some of the Census numbers “hopelessly distorted.”

 

Read Next: George Zornick on the “Draft Warren” movement

Obama’s Defense Secretary Nominee Is Open to Having More Troops in Afghanistan

Ashton Carter

Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter arrives to testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on February 4, 2015. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Ashton Carter, President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Defense, will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing Wednesday morning that he is open to committing more US. troops to Afghanistan if conditions “degrade” in 2016.

Carter gave his shortest answer to over 300 prepared questions from the committee when asked about more troops in Afghanistan:

Q: If security conditions on the ground in Afghanistan degrade in 2016, would you consider recommending to the President revisions to the size and pace of the drawdown plan announced by the President in order to adequately address those security conditions?

A: Yes.

The ultimate decision on recommitting troops will be made by President Obama, but it’s notable Carter is open, without qualification, to pushing for a broader war in Afghanistan.

The critical context here is the slow re-engagement in Afghanistan being undertaken by the Obama administration, without much public or congressional scrutiny. There is a pleasant fiction in Washington that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is over,” as Obama claimed in his recent State of the Union address, but that ignores several important facts:

  • The administration signed a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government that permits US troops until at least 2024, and does not prohibit them from combat operations.

  • In November, The New York Times reported that “President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.” This attracted very little media attention, and likewise from Congress.

  • In his final weeks as Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel committed an additional 1,000 US troops to Afghanistan for the coming year.

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When details of the security agreement were leaked last year, a small bipartisan group of senators repeatedly pushed measures to have Congress vote on extending the war before Obama acted. (“Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships. But it isn’t the right approach when it comes to war,” Senator Jeff Merkley said at the time.) But then-Majority Leader Harry Reid never scheduled a vote.

The Carter hearings are another chance for Congress to weigh in, however, and find out why the administration is extending the nation’s longest war, for how long and with what specific goals in mind.

Read Next: George Zornick on Larry Hogan’s assault on LGBT and environmental protections

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